Based on the standalone Hellblazer graphic novel All His Engines written by Mike Carey during his three-year run on the comic, Quid Pro Quo sees our intrepid trio travel to New York when Chas’s daughter Geraldine becomes one of a spreading epidemic of people inexplicably falling into comas. Hedge-wizard Felix Faust (Max Margolis; That Guy From That Thing Who Has A Creepy Face You’re Sure You Recognise From Somewhere) has been stealing the souls of the city’s inhabitants to augment his magical strength and is holding Geraldine’s as ransom to blackmail Constantine into dealing with the demon Carabasan who is siphoning his stolen power.
Although his comic book persona is that of a supremely powerful sorcerer, Faust is here portrayed as a perpetual apprentice who has spent decades overshadowed by the work of numerous masters. However, his greed and ambition remain undiminished and the Rising Darkness has granted him the opportunity to surpass his contemporaries in raw power, if not the ability to control it. Incidentally, Faust’s rival Doctor Mist was the African shaman Constantine consulted in A Feast of Friends, but this appears to just be a coincidence.
Although an imported DC character, Faust is really just another villain of the week whose purpose is to facilitate the long overdue telling of Chas’s backstory. Although he’s not exactly the “mindless lackey” Pazuzu declared him to be last week, Chas has nevertheless been the most underdeveloped of the central characters, his role largely defined by what Constantine needs from him.
In this episode, Chas’s self-resurrection finally gets an explanation: two years previously Constantine drunkenly cast a supposedly mythical protection enchantment on him that was created by Merlin for King Arthur, and when he soon after died in a nightclub fire the lives of the four dozen others killed alongside him were absorbed, meaning he can now die once for each soul within him.
It also explains his unwavering loyalty to Constantine’s cause to the extent that it cost him his marriage. Not just because the spell saved his life, but because he feels he has a responsibility to honour the lives of those whose souls he now carries. Their deaths are the reason he continues breathing, for without them he would quite literally be dead a dozen times over, and his driving force is to make their inadvertent sacrifice count for something. It’s later revealed that he has taken the time to learn about the lives of each of them, seeing them not just as a tally of how often he can cheat the reaper’s scythe, but as real people who had hopes and dreams before they were so abruptly snuffed out.
As well as letting us know more about a man who has been almost as reticent with personal details as Zed, it also tells us that his ability is rigidly and numerically finite. He can’t forever be the one to charge against lethal forces to protect other people since some day he’ll be down to his last chance. Less clear is whether or not the enchantment is still active, and if he were to again be killed along with others, would their souls also be absorbed.
Constantine and Zed’s actions are mostly relegated to setting a simple baited trap to banish Carabasan, which offers further indication that Zed really doesn’t do the role of damsel in distress even when she’s faking it, and interaction with Chas’s ex-wife Renee. Not entirely unreasonably, she perceives Constantine as being to blame for her and Chas separating, and it clearly galls her that the man she detests is also the one best equipped to save her daughter.
Despite the revelation of Chas’ ongoing mystery and the tacit promise of Zed’s to come (the Resurrection Crusade have now been officially namechecked), after the series high of The Saint of Last Resorts two-parter and its advancement of the primary plotline this feels like little more than a filler episode. No less entertaining than the series has so far been, but still a frustrating suspension of ongoing proceedings that have only a few episodes left to be (hopefully) resolved.
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